President Barack Obama has decided to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, on the grounds that “the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention”. Civilian deaths from political violence increased about 40% in 2008 over 2007, reaching over 2000. They will be sent to the Pushtun south and east of the country, where guerrilla fighting is expected to pick up with the advent of warm weather. The BBC says, “The deployment will be made up of 8,000 marines, and 4,000 army soldiers, plus another 5,000 support staff.” The Marines will begin arriving in May.
What we saw in Iraq was that the sheer number of troops did not matter so much as how they are deployed and for what purpose. I hope that these troops are used well.
McClatchy reports that the new troops will mainly be sent to Helmand Province, a major poppy-producing areas, and will have poppy eradication as a major mission. If this report is true, it is very troubling. There is reason to think that forcible poppy eradication has produced the growing insurgency. Poppies are used to make heroin, and exports of the drug account for over a third of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. But many Afghan farmers are destitute after 30 years of war, and this crop is their one hope of escaping poverty. They grow irate when someone comes in with helicopters and torches to destroy the crop.
There are currently 38,000 US troops in Afghanistan. Last I knew, there were 10,000 under a US command and 18,000 serving under the NATO ISAF command (which has 32,000 non-US NATO troops), which totals 50,000. But given the determination of Canada to pull its troops out within three years, and the flagging commitment of other NATO allies, it could be that the increase of US troops will just offset draw-downs of NATO forces.
Meanwhile, NATO is worried about the terms of the truce just concluded between Pakistan and militants in Swat, which involves imposition of Muslim canon law on that area. (Most of Pakistan is ruled by cviil law, which may be drawn in part from Islamic law but also has a heritage in British law.)
Suspicions linger that ousted military dictator Perzez Musharraf presided over a military that was glad to do a double deal with the Taliban.
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